In the half century since my generation were of an age to go to college the whole experience of university education has changed almost beyond recognition, and not for the better.
That this should be so was inevitable once governments decided that it would be advantageous to send ever increasing numbers of youngsters to university. In 1960 only four percent of school leavers went up, by the end of the 1970s this has risen to fourteen percent, and now it hovers around the fifty percent. It is unbelievable that anyone in their right mind can claim that such increases do not lead inexorably to a decline in standards, yet many contend it to be so. Of course this deterioration has been concealed by the intellectual abilities required being less demanding, so courses are accessible to those who in the past would not have been accepted. In 1970 one third of graduates obtained a first class degree, yet now that figure has risen to two thirds, among a much less rigorously selected population. One result is that those who fifty years ago achieved a perfectly respectable 2:2 now find that employers are liable to treat such a qualification with contempt, as large number of current graduates are being given firsts or 2:1 degrees, which they would not have gained in the past.
As now nearly two and a half million are in tertiary education one effect is that the number of universities has also increased massively. Given the varying definitions of such institutions in official figures it is difficult to be certain of the exact change, but it is certainly enormous, the upgrading of polytechnics to university status being responsible for much of the increase. Institutions which once performed a sterling task in preparing youngsters for vocational careers now emphasise supposed academic achievement, even when many employers prefer the former.
The financial implications for those attending universities now are such that anyone from ordinary working class backgrounds needs to think very carefully as to whether the game is worth the candle. Whereas once a grant was available, so that graduates could leave college with perhaps only a small overdraft, today's youngsters are being burdened with debts as high as fifty thousand pounds. In addition it is a disgrace, that the universities are lowering entrance standards, or using pseudo economic excuses to permit entry to those who do not match up to the educational requirements, as it subjects the youngsters involved to a struggle beyond their capabilities. A massive confidence trick is being practised upon them, as they have been led to believe that the enormous debts they are incurring in order to obtain their degree will be repaid by the value the latter will have in providing a decent career. While this may be true for those such as scientists, doctors, engineers and lawyers, it is absolutely false in the case of so many of the pretentious, and trivial, qualifications which universities now offer. The elitist arrogance of the educational establishment has led to the replacement of the apprenticeships, work experience and training, day release, and evening classes, which were of use to the nation, with useless arts degrees in meaningless subjects. As a consequence employers now ask for degrees as an entry requirement for positions which in the past were filled by school leavers, to no one's benefit other than the universities.
Beyond all these considerations of standards and financial commitments there is another elephant in the room. Bodies of higher education should be one of the greatest assets a country can possess but, over the past few decades, we in the West have seen them mutate into organisations which, while absorbing vast amounts of public money, have become hotbeds of political correctness, and the source of that elitism which treats the wishes of the people with contempt, seeking to suppress all views which do not accord with the deeply held prejudices of the educational establishment.
Previously one of the primary functions of a university education was to enable youngsters to encounter a wide spectrum of views, broadening their mind, so that they would be capable of debating issues, while respecting the fact that points of view other than their own are worthy of consideration. Now we find the universities, often yielding to pressure from students, allowing such nonsenses as safe spaces, trigger warnings and no platforming to limit debate, deny the opportunity for those who do not subscribe the narrow set of left liberal, and often Marxist, opinions held by the high priests of political correctness, to present their views, and even to permit changes to the names of colleges, and consider the removal of statues linked to those historical personalities of university life who had connections to matters of which they disapprove.
That a feminist icon such as Germaine Greer could be prevented from addressing a meeting, or the ludicrous idea that any book, however one might disagree with its position, should be withheld, in case the poor little snowflakes would be upset by it, are a disgrace to bodies whose lecturers would, in the past, acted as devil's advocates, in order to stimulate thought and discussion. Such censorship is the first step on the slippery slope to the book burning of the Nazi thugs. The City University student union even banned from shops on its grounds the Daily Mail, Sun and Daily Express, papers read by millions. They do the youngsters no favours as, in the real world, they will find that, while people will disagree and argue, for the most part they attack the other's views, not their right to hold them, and would be both astonished and angered by such a contention. In this they would agree with Voltaire who wrote 'think for yourselves, and allow others the privilege to do so, too'.
The utter hypocrisy of all this supposed concern for correct behaviour is shown by the anti Semitism so often encountered, when leading academic and student figures attack Israel, call a particular university a Zionist outpost, and indeed allow blatant anti Semitic positions to be adopted by their spokespersons without protest. These people were just the sort whom Orwell knew only too well, and who are doing their best to establish a Thought Police in this country. One only has to look at how they wish to override the wishes of parents concerning their children's welfare, encouraging the latter to feel doubts about their sexual identity, at a time when they should be innocent of such matters, and trying to enforce the views of the more extreme campaigners by use of the law.
While those such as scientists, mathematicians, physicists and doctors are intelligent, those who study the arts like to think of themselves as intellectuals and, as Clement Attlee said 'Never listen to intellectuals, they are always wrong'. We could usefully close a great many of the current universities, return the old polytechnics back to their old status, radically prune the arts subjects on offer, and replace the ideologues with lecturers who value education above their political beliefs.